‘Tis a Season

“God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

The author of Ecclesiastes, (aka “The Teacher”) provokes us to examine our lives. Today we’re discussing Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, which is actually a poem, and the most well-known part of the book. Seasons in this context aren’t like the seasons we think of regarding weather patterns. Chapter 3 focuses on seasons of life, and the events we encounter, and how our lives are really a series of seasons

In this poem, the Teacher basically lists different events that all humans are likely to experience. All humans are likely to know times of war, and to experience birth and death within families. We will plant and harvest through our vocations. We will build some things and will disassemble other things. Our lifetimes are more accurately marked by the seasons we experience than by just our birthdate. The seasons of our lives are not always predictable, and often the times of season changes are unforeseen. In fact, we can wake up one day expecting everything to be routine like yesterday, and in a moment everything changes.

What does the Teacher in Ecclesiastes have to say to us today? The spiritual journey is a life lived in tension. We enjoy many blessings but being a part of the kingdom of God is not an everlasting spa day. This divine tension is found in balancing the things we are unable to understand with the eternal truths we should always hold onto.

What we don’t know or understand – The “What, When and Why?”

We cannot always predict the what- what season is coming next. We cannot always know the when- when a season may suddenly burst in and disrupt our lives. Things like pandemics, accidents, natural disasters, and medical diagnoses, can come about unexpectedly. Even when we have a hint that something is on the horizon, no amount of imagination can anticipate the dozens of ways a single event can alter every part of your life. Living through a traumatic season will have residual effects throughout the remainder of our lives.

We are living in a season of COVID 19, a pandemic. While some seasons change with the fading out of the old season and the phasing in of the new, some seasons abruptly bursts through the front door and takes its seat right in the middle of our living room, without allowing us time to process it or to plan for it. Now, in 2020, we find ourselves in a season to “refrain from embracing,” (v 5), it’s a time to refrain from congregating, it’s a time to refrain from carelessly moving about in our community, it’s a time of job loss, it’s a time of anxiety, and for many, many people- it’s a time to die.

Not being able to anticipate the what and when of abrupt changes makes us feel increasingly unsettled the more we think about it. We can develop a heightened fear about what may come next, or we “wait for the other shoe to drop.”

The popular author, social worker, and researcher, Dr. Brene’ Brown, speaks about this. She explains that many people develop a mindset of what she calls “foreboding joy.” That’s when you won’t allow yourself to fully experience love and joy because you fear loss. She uses the illustration of a parent looking in on their child sleeping and thinking of how much love they have for the child. As the parent begins to feel the joy of that whole-hearted love, suddenly they imagine how horrible it would be to lose their child. That moment of joy triggers an immediate moment of dread. The fear of loss prevents us from feeling love and joy whole heartedly. In fact, many of us will obsess over that fear of loss, trying to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario. Dr. Brown, who has interviewed thousands of trauma survivors, points out that there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself for that terrible call, or that dreaded news. When we forbode joy, we waste time that we can’t get back being fearful of loss, instead of freely loving and enjoying our relationships.

We can’t know the “What?” and the “When?” The final thing we can’t know is the “Why?” In my opinion the why is the most haunting question we face. Why does the Lord allow certain things to happen or why doesn’t the Lord step in and fix things? We won’t understand the why because our minds can’t comprehend how God is orchestrating things for everyone involved. Many of us have lived bitter days obsessing over the question “Why?”  My experience has taught me that when you hear someone asking “why?”  about a difficult time, the most loving thing you can do is admit that you don’t know, because you don’t. When faced with someone who is hurting, well-meaning people often will say, “It’s the Lords will,” because that seems like a perfectly sound spiritual answer. That’s the kind of answer that can wrap doubts and messy feelings into a pretty package with a bow on top. But that answer isn’t comforting at all to a person struggling through the most tortured days of their existence. In fact, a response of “It’s the Lord’s will” sounds like a diversion to pivot the conversation toward something more comfortable for the listener. When we’re hurting, we are in tension, and we struggle to find meaning. We need to speak and express our pain. One of the reasons that people are often discouraged from speaking about their difficult feelings is that it’s hard to find someone who is willing to listen and to sit in that uncomfortable space with you. One of the bravest and most helpful things you can say as a listener is “I don’t understand what you’re going through or why you’re going through this, but I know you’re hurting and I’m going to stick with you through it.”

The things we can’t know about seasons of forced change can be haunting, but the Teacher of Ecclesiastes gives us 3 eternal truths that strengthen and encourage us.

The first eternal truth we find in verse 11 is that “God has put a sense of the past and the future in the human mind.” In a different translation it is worded as we have “an awareness of eternity that we can’t comprehend.” Here we go again…. another thing that we can’t understand. No wonder the spiritual walk is a journey through tension because we want certainty without having to depend on anything. I think the sense of eternity is best understood as we have an awareness that we are part of the greater story of God and humanity. We know that our days on earth are numbered, but maybe the work we do or the influence we have isn’t limited by the days we live. The book of James reminds that our life is like a mist, here one moment and gone the next. We all know people who may have passed on, yet they still influence our lives. In the same vein, our influencers had people in their past who influenced them. These are glimpses of how time fits together beyond the days of a human life. This sense of eternity is among our richest blessings, even though we don’t see the full picture. God has invited us to participate in the work of the kingdom that stretches way beyond us.

The second eternal truth also found in verse 11 is that God makes all things suitable for its time. Another translation of the Bible says that God makes all things beautiful in its time. So lets talk about suitability. All things being made suitable in their time is a promise that no matter what season we face, it will be made suitable. It is going to serve a purpose.

So what about COVID 19? What is that suitable for? We don’t know, and that is part of the tension we live in. As much as we like to be optimistic, the data suggests that we’re not near the end of this season yet. Once a vaccine is found and this illness becomes non-threatening, we are still going to have multitudes of people suffering with residuals effects. There will also be decades of grief from the lives lost and there will likely be decades of latent economic effects on many people. Of course, just as with most disease and economic hardship, it will be the poor who will continue to suffer the most long-lasting impact of this pandemic season. Christian author Bob Goff says, “In God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted. Not pain, nor disappointments, nor our setbacks. These are tools that can be used later as a recipe for our best work.”

The final eternal truth is found in verse 14 and repeated many times throughout Ecclesiastes. The Teacher reminds us repeatedly, that only the work of the Lord will last. We live in a series of seasons, we gather, we build, we plant, we procreate, we celebrate, our life is full of activity. The only things that matters are the things we do for God, things that have eternal value. Is there anything wrong with enjoying “non eternal” things? No, in fact Ecclesiastes reminds us that there’s nothing better than to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Celebration and enjoyment are gifts from God. But we are quickly reminded that the fruits of our labor, our stuff, our celebrations, won’t be where we find our purpose. Chasing after such things is like chasing the wind.  We weren’t created to accumulate. We were created to be in relationship with God and to love people. I don’t want to limit my legacy to passing on a bunch of stuff. We were created with the image of God imprinted on us. We are equipped to do work with eternal value. The world needs the best of us, not our stuff, we have too much stuff already. It’s ironic that in many places around the globe people die from not having enough, while in the US the leading causes of death can be attributed to our insatiable desire for excess.

In verse 14 we see it written, “God has done this so that we will stand in awe before the Lord.” What that is saying is that in all the things we experience, we are reminded to remain in the place we were crated to be in. Recognizing that God is God and we are not, is the natural order that God set in place from the beginning. It is the safest place for us to dwell. Why are spiritual disciplines important? Activities like prayer, Bible study, stewardship, worship and living in community are where our spirits get exercised and trained. In these holy spaces, our spirits train to be in the posture we were crated to live in. It’s a posture of submission and dependence on God, the posture that the disciples of Christ are called to.

Rejoice in the Lordship of our Creator. We’re not responsible for having all the answers- and that’s great because we don’t know them. We are not responsible for everyone’s health, safety and happiness- and that’s great because it’s beyond our skill set to provide those things. The Lord has woven together a safety net for us. Some of the things that our safety net is woven from is our community, scripture, prayer and the presence of the Holy Spirit. That safety net saves us from ourselves.

In these days and always- may we look for opportunities to love and comfort others.

May we discipline ourselves daily- to be centered on the Lord and to be about the eternal work of the kingdom.

As we live in this tension- may find peace knowing God is with us- in all the painful and exhausting places this season calls us to.

Continue reading “‘Tis a Season”

Huge Grace…Really?

O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. (Psalm 71:17)

I have been challenged more than once in the last couple of weeks to define what “my message” is. Why do I write? What drives me to love church ministry work and to fight for social justice? If I had only one message to give to the world, what would it be? The answer is grace. I’m not famous. People don’t create hashtags about things I do, but I have the platform the Lord has given me. I want the people who I encounter to know they are loved and accepted by the Lord, that they are precious in God’s sight and that no one has to do anything to earn that. This isn’t something I’ve always believed for myself, but when I came to accept that, it was the biggest game changer in my life. I know there are people who don’t feel comfortable in church settings. I know there are people who have heard terrible insults and verbal attacks directed at them that no one should ever experience. I know there are people who were raised and perhaps remain in surroundings that reinforced the idea “I’ll never be enough.” I can’t fix any of those things and I can’t erase those memories for people. I can’t repair the damage that the wrecking ball of hate and criticism has caused people. I wish I could. The Lord can, though, that I know. God is rebuilding me and making me into a new creation. I see “mile markers” along the way that remind me that I’m still on a healing journey, but I’m not where I was earlier in my life. So, grace is the message most dear to my heart. I love feeling comfortable in my own skin. I love my healthy relationships. I love that I’m finding my voice, and that I don’t always have to filter my ideas a thousand times before speaking them for fear of not receiving the approval of my listener. Grace is doing a total makeover of my brokenness.

I grew up with a love for the church and I recognize the value added from the pursuit of the spiritual life and the stability that a church family gives to people of all ages. The best thing I gained from being raised in the church was that I was challenged and equipped to develop a personal relationship with God. I understand how to navigate the Bible. I can grasp the richness of hymns and centuries old traditions. While no congregation or denomination is perfect, I felt like I was provided with many opportunities to develop a strong spiritual foundation. I’m thankful for the many people who invested part of their lives into my life. Grace has been at work for me from my first breath.

One of my biggest struggles, which for decades was a silent struggle, was reconciling my homosexuality with my faith. As many people understand, the Christian church culture, in most settings, isn’t friendly to people who are different. Churches often tout that everyone is welcome but people’s different-ness is quickly recognized and verbal and nonverbal messaging begins to assimilate the person to fall in line, and to act and believe like the rest. When it comes to those who don’t fill the typical church mold, the more they adapt to the church setting and begin to act and speak like the crowd, the more they are applauded and praised. They’re told, “I can really see that the Lord is working in you.” What that actually means is, “You’re behaving in a way that keeps me more comfortable. I’m glad God’s fixing you.” It’s easy to see why so many people keep so many of their different feelings or opposing viewpoints silent. Everyone longs for community; God has wired us to be at our best when we are living life with others. I really had planned to keep my “gayness” quiet. If no one knew there was “a problem” with me, then maybe there wasn’t a problem at all. When you’re gay, blending in is the way you “straighten up” and act like people who are accepted as “normal.”

I didn’t admit to being gay until I was in my late 30s. I really thought, based on the messaging I grew up with, that my attraction to females was just “weird feelings” (that’s what I called those feelings since childhood). I thought for some reason my mind was sick and that if I just got healthy and spiritual enough, I would become like everyone else. (It’s odd to think that God designed so much diversity into creation and yet many of us work ridiculously hard to all be the same.) My young journey that I was navigating to be healthier and holier, so I could be like everyone else, had just the opposite effect. I was chronically depressed and growing to like myself less and less. I’ve struggled with depression to the point of being suicidal since I was 13 years old. So, my best attempt to walk the straight and narrow led me into a lonely pit. I didn’t feel like I could risk telling any of my secrets because being accepted gave me the security I longed for. I noticed that many of us church people had an air about us (for a variety of reasons). We were all commitment and no joy. We kept things going, tried to avoid rocking the boat, and we had an exquisite ability to define the indisputable line between right and wrong. In retrospect, it all seems crazy to me now that I feel at home in my own skin, at home in my spiritual life and at home in a church community. Now I see my journey as lots of commitment, peace and joy. (There are occasions of pain, tears and frustrations, but living in community makes those tough things easier to bear.)

I turned a corner on this after I sought out help from other people of faith who saw things differently than what I had always accepted to be rock solid truth. Along with professional counseling there was a small group of people who challenged me and pointed out the inconsistencies in my belief system. I spent a lot of time in prayer and reading the Bible and actually talking about my fears of rejection and my doubts. I feel like I had developed a firm spiritual foundation but there were a few things about God that I had to relearn and accept as truth. I had always known that God loves everyone but accepting God’s love for me was a discipline that required more than just head knowledge. That truth had to take root in my heart. The Lord healed me of thinking I would never be good enough and that accepting myself as gay was a blessing and not a curse. Earlier in my life my personal prayer times were tortured conversations where I would start out the prayer by giving all these huge apologies for how I had screwed things up and how I was so imperfect. It was like my disclaimer before each prayer – “God please don’t hate me even though I am so messed up.”  Finally, one day I felt like God said to me, “Will you please quit trying to talk me out of loving you?” When I quit trying to disqualify myself from God’s unconditional love, healing happened.

Admitting that I was gay to many of my lifelong friends and family was difficult. After all, I know how people talk about gay people when they think no gay people are around. I was confident that I would continue to be loved, but I also knew that things would forever change with some. Some of the conversations went really well, others were not pleasant at all. It was a hard time, but nothing nearly as bad as the days when I hated myself so bad that I wouldn’t even look in a mirror. “Coming out” was a matter of integrity for me and I made a commitment to never hide myself for the comfort of others. I will not sacrifice my peace for any person on this earth, because I remember how bad it was living without peace. I ended up leaving the church denomination that I attended all my life. I felt like I had been abandoned by the church, there wasn’t a place there for me anymore. Like I said, I would have continued to be loved, but I couldn’t be associated with a group that would relegate me to spectator status when I had always enjoyed participating in ministry. I wasn’t kicked out, but I knew full well the church’s views on the LGBTQ community. I wasn’t going to be the person who needed to be fixed. I wasn’t going to be kept from full participation in a community because of who God created me to be. All of those things would have just reinforced the negative unhealthy mindset that the Lord was healing me out of.

As I was making those changes people would ask me, “How do you skirt around what the Bible says about being gay?” Well- I don’t, and I would hope that anyone who has ever known me knows that I would never sacrifice my relationship with God for a phase or a newly adopted philosophy. First of all, I don’t believe that the Bible speaks against being gay. There are lots of good resources that take a close look at those scriptures that are often used to attack members of the LGBTQ community. Second of all, if the Bible did openly condemn being gay, which it doesn’t, I would like to point out that writers of the Bible spoke against many things that were not accepted during the time when those authors wrote the Bible. Jesus himself doesn’t mention anything against being gay although it was widely a part of the culture long before his birth. When I was growing up people who were divorced were spoken about in hushed tones and whispers. It was so scandalous!! While no one is happy about a failed marriage, the church culture doesn’t widely seem to worry about divorce today.  I will link to some resources at the end if you are interested in exploring the Biblical views on homosexuality. I’m not arguing this issue with anyone ever again. This is not a problem between the Lord and I, and frankly that truth takes priority over my need for anyone’s approval.

I really don’t want to come across as being snarky. I simply want to point out what grace has shown me. Here’s the thing- many of us were raised in a church were very well meaning and sincere humans were doing their best to teach the truth as they understood it. That is something to be thankful for. In life however, you also encounter God who is with you every second, the Creator that you pray to, the Lord you see lived out in people you know  have an authentic relationship with God. The latter is the God that you meet on your knees. Whenever the God that I was taught about by a church comes into conflict with the God that I’ve met on my knees, I’m going to go with the God that I’ve met on my knees every time.

Why do I write? What message do I want those around me to know? I know there are a lot of people who don’t quite fit into places because there’s something different about them. I remember feeling like I would never find a community to worship with who would accept me. I remember feeling like I was so screwed up that I wasn’t really capable of being happy or having joy. I figured I just wasn’t wired that way (like one of the “happy people”) and that was my lot in life. Huge grace gave me things I never thought were possible and replaced things I thought I had lost forever. God’s huge grace fuels my wonderful life, all I had to do was accept it. Everyone was created to live in God’s love. That can’t be invalidated by the actions or words of others. It also can’t be invalidated by the things you say and do to yourself.

There are people who have been disenfranchised from the faith community for many reasons. Heck, there are lots of people that have been marginalized by our country and most of the world. Don’t let whatever makes you different to be used as an excuse to keep you from God’s love. You know how now, in the age of Corona, when you go to the doctor’s office you have to answer a bunch of COVID screening questions before you can be admitted into the treatment area? (“Have you traveled out of the country?” “Have you had a fever or any respiratory symptoms?” …….) Guess what- there are no screening questions when you take a step toward God. Calling out to God is going to lead you to a loving Creator who is anxious to catch up with you, just like a best friend. You are just as loved by God on your best day as you are on your worst day. That my friend is all because of Huge Grace. Continue reading “Huge Grace…Really?”

Crying Out

“What have you done? Listen your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)

For people of faith, the story of Cain and Abel is the first place in biblical history where we see the beginning of the pattern that is tearing our society apart today. This pattern of behavior has replayed over centuries and explicitly demonstrates: “What I want is more important that your life.” This pattern is responsible for the holocaust, genocides, worldwide wars and the systemic racism that has plagued the United States since its precolonial days. It’s quite shocking how little life is valued and how easily we have been accustomed to the slaughter of people as being collateral damage. It is particularly disturbing how this is so widely ignored by persons who consider themselves to be people of faith. Most faith traditions believe that life is a sacred gift, but our actions demonstrate that we don’t believe that at all. Being created in God’s image and being precious in the eyes of the Lord seems to be a concept that we teach children so that they’ll have healthy self-esteems, but we don’t carry that belief far enough to impact our social and economic policies.

Cain and Abel were two of Adam and Eve’s children who lived in the Garden of Eden. Their story unfolds in Genesis 4 as both young men present offerings to God. For some reason Abel’s offering to God was accepted and Cain’s was not accepted. We aren’t given the details as to why Cain’s was not accepted, and it would be an exercise in futility to shift our focus on this unknowable aspect of the story. Suffice it to say, there was something unacceptable about Cain’s offering, it was God’s call, we just need to leave it there. Obviously, Cain was disappointed, maybe embarrassed, and mad. God addresses Cain’s anger and says in essence, “Why are you so distraught and mad? If you do the right thing when present the offering, won’t it be accepted?” (The following words we see recorded are particularly foreshadowing and rings with truth and wisdom even today. “And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” v 7). The story proceeds and Cain’s anger leads him to murder his brother Abel. The Lord returns to Cain and asks about Abel, and Cain replies with “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (v 9). Of course, the Lord knew what had transpired, I think that the asking Cain the question was a test to see if Cain would own up to his action or deny his guilt. After Cain’s unsuccessful attempt to “pivot” the conversation (didn’t work with God then, and still doesn’t) the Lord says, “What have you done? Listen, your brother’s blood is crying out from the ground!” (v 10). The Lord then confronts Cain with all of the consequences for his actions. Cain’s existence would never be the same. Cain then cries out that he could never bear living with the consequences and that someone would surely kill him because he murdered Abel. Then, the Lord declares that Cain would be able to live out his life and that he would not be murdered as a payback for the killing of his brother.

This story came to me as I was participating in public protest this weekend that was a demonstration against systemic racism and the long history of police brutality against people of color. In fact, as one of the protest leaders was speaking, I actually looked this scripture up and read it because I was feeling so drawn to it in that moment. Let me explain why I think this ancient story is a story that illuminates this current moment.

As I mentioned before, this biblical account is a clear illustration of what happens when we value our interests above the lives of others. Cain presented an inadequate offering to the Lord. The Lord clearly stated, “If you do the right thing your offerings will be accepted.” All Cain had to do was correct whatever the issue was with the offering. He could simply give another offering that was acceptable and receive a blessing from God. Instead of correcting his action, he eliminated someone who made him jealous. I guess Cain thought he would look better if he didn’t have competition, which is absolutely not true. God’s acceptance of an offering has nothing to do with your offering being better than someone else’s offering. God judges our offerings against the spirt in which we present them, other people have nothing to do with it. It seemed that Cain, instead of owning up to whatever his offering lacked, chose anger against his brother instead of confession and repentance to God.

After Cain’s anger led him to murder his brother, Cain was reluctant to own up to his actions. His answer “Am I my brother’s keeper?” seemed like a great way to spin the situation from focusing on the murder that he committed. As humans we love to spin stories, presenting things in such a manner as to divert attention or to present ourselves in the best possible light. This is effective, we see it every day, however, the Lord who always has discerning vision into our hearts doesn’t fall for “spin.” The Lord has been calling out “spin” since before Cain and Able were born. We see the Lord confront Cain about Cain’s actions. “Your brother’s blood is crying out.” Cain was forced to own up to his selfish act that was rooted in the philosophy, “what I want is more valuable than your life.”

Throughout the history of the United States we have been confronted with our self-serving policies that were executed to the detriment of many. It seems like no matter how much evidence is presented there is an unlimited collection of spin to divert the attention from the issues of inequality so that the comfort of the elites (or the “haves”) can be assured. Despite many accounts of the indigenous people helping the settlers, the Europeans killed many, stole land and wealth from the indigenous people and exploited them in the passage of “legislative acts” and “treaties” that were blatantly to the settlers’ benefit. Even worse, the very biased acts and treaties are easily ignored, even to this day, when compliance isn’t financially beneficial or convenient to the country. After the bloody Civil War ended, the reparations promised to the former slaves were quickly reversed after Lincoln’s assassination. The Civil Rights movement which fought to secure legislation to end the economic and social disparities saw this legislation ignored or selectively enforced. And here we are, after another person of color literally had his life squeezed from him, and we, white people, are very uncomfortable. We hope that somewhere we will find the right combination of smoke and mirrors and spin to make this disappear, just like we’ve done for centuries.

To all of us white people of faith- our brothers’ blood is calling out to us and the Lord is saying “What have you done?” While it is very convenient to just get wrapped up and jump on the bandwagon of people who look like us and who say things that we like to believe, we are still confronted by our Creator who in complete love, grace and righteousness is saying, “What have you done?” “What are you doing?” “What are you going to do?” Our preachers, our spouses, our community leaders are not who we answer for, we are being asked about our actions. Dare to research and learn more about the accusations being made by protesters. I recommend resources like the book The New Jim Crow, and organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Poor People’s Campaign. Study, pray and ask the Lord for guidance. God didn’t give us a brain capable of understanding and discernment just for us to regurgitate the ideas of our parents or the people in our churches and social circles.

We sit in disbelief at the suffering in Syria, Yemen, Latin America, and other places. We act so taken aback when we hear stories about the murder and hate in the accounts of Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom. I believe that most of us sincerely hope for better circumstances for the people in far away lands. The problem is, we are blind to the pain in our back yard. As an average white person raised in the United States in the 70s and 80s, I wasn’t raised to recognize racism. When things caught my attention there were always pivots and spin to take my attention off the issues. “Blacks are lazy and want to live off the government.” “Mexicans bring drugs into the country and steals our jobs.” I know what white people say when only white people are around. You hear these things spoken usually in hushed tones, but they are still spoken in schools, community settings, churches and of course these ideas are promoted by the media. I’m thankful that I grew up in a family that didn’t speak words of hate against others, but these racial biases were certainly not hard to find. I’m definitely not holding myself up as an example of anything, but my views have changed because I began to learn. I began to be exposed to these issues, and the more I looked the more I saw. There is plenty to see.

One more thing about Cain- let’s talk about the grace at work in this story. It can be argued that Cain “deserved” to die and not enjoy years of life like what he stole from his brother. The Lord didn’t do that, in fact, the Lord made him a promise that he would be protected from murder. Cain really messed up bad, but that didn’t have to be the end of his story. Years later, Jacob really messed up bad, but that wasn’t the end of his story. In the New Testament Peter really messed up bad, but it wasn’t the end of his story. There are usually consequences for our bad actions, but our stories are defined by what we do with the grace we find after our screw ups. What is our answer to the cries of our brothers and sisters whose blood cries out to us from the ground? It’s impossible to wrap our heads around everything at play in this moment of our lives, but I’m sensing that we are stumbling upon a time of grace that is waiting for us just beyond the point when we lift our repentance to the Creator of us all for our apathy.

Because of my faith in God’s grace and power, I know we can do better as a society than we have done. We have a funny relationship with the word repentance. We see repentance as being closely aligned with punishment or manipulation. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Repentance is merely “returning to God.” We punish ourselves when we don’t repent because we are willfully keeping ourselves away from the Lord, which is our life-giving power source. This is our moment! Let us repent of our complacency toward social justice. Could it be, just like Queen Ester, that we were created for “such a time as this,”(Esther 4:14)? What a blessing it would be to participate in a time that ushered in a new chapter of understanding for justice and equality for our country, a true season of healing grace. There has been so much pain, so many lives wasted, so much potential never realized, because we were preoccupied by what we wanted instead of the value of human lives. Generations of blood is calling out to us in this moment. May the offering we present to God, our lives, be acceptable. May we not let this moment pass us by.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+4%3A1-16&version=NIV

Elephants Should Be Free

It’s silly to think about- actually having an elephant in the room. No one would think it’s a good idea. It happens metaphorically every day. Necessary conversations fail to happen for lots of reasons, and the proverbial elephant appears. Along with the emotional strain that occurs, there are lots of tangible consequences. Unspoken concerns, ignored perspectives and discarded emotions prevents laws from being passed, relationships from being built, and the welfare of all to be considered. We love to trumpet the right to freedom of speech, but in lots of cases we really only enjoy our right to speak freely. We’re not so much concerned about listening to other points of view unless they align with our beliefs. This isn’t new, and it isn’t the burden of a few, we all struggle with this.

Isn’t it crazy though? In metaphor and in reality, we know elephants don’t belong indoors. Elephants are meant to be free; they don’t want to be in our rooms. Just think about it, an elephant in your living room. Combine that with the eternal truth expressed by the author Taro Gomi in “Everyone Poops” and you begin to realize that having an elephant in the room will soon begin to stink. Elephants poop, and they poop big. When an elephant enters the room they tend to stay for a long time, sometimes for decades. As you stare down your opponent from across the room, despite your resolve to remain stone faced, you will eventually begin physically reacting the dung heap that is developing. After a while all members of your family and circle of friends are going to know that there is something smelly going on. As days, weeks, and years pass, people you hardly know, maybe coworkers, people at the soccer field, that person you buy coffee from every morning, even they will be able to detect an odd aroma from your emotional aura. They won’t know the name of the elephant and they might not be able to guess who your opponent is in the poo poo prevalent territory, but they will take a whiff of you and know that something isn’t quite right.

Have you ever known anyone with the unfortunate experience of getting a skunk’s scent in their house? I’ve known a couple people who found themselves in this situation and they had several days of unpleasantness. Fortunately, with some vinegar, baking soda and time that smell will dissipate. Elephants in the room are worse because shit is forever. When you allow the elephant in the room you have a 10,000 pound pachyderm who is an eternal excrement factory. Physical elephants can live up to 70 years. The species of elephants that live in relationship rooms can survive for generations and centuries.

Haven’t you been at one of those weddings where there are key people stationed across the reception hall frantically texting back and forth as they keep surveillance of particular guests of interests? This is all to either keep the bride from crying at her wedding or prevent the need for police intervention, maybe both. People’s eyes get big as Uncle Billy walks toward the buffet line and past the table where Cousin Linda is sitting. You see they were best friends as teenagers, then Billy married Ruth and there’s been bad blood since then.

You’ve worked at one of places where across the sea of cubicles heads poke up from time to time like prairie dogs and coworkers instant message each other periodic updates.

“Patty and Stan are fighting again. She’s hung up on him 3 times already.”

“Why does he keep calling back?”

“I don’t know but the phone’s ringing again.”

I’ve been at events that were like a virtual elephant sanctuary. There had to be designated historical data coordinators to collect, manage and interpret all of the verbal and non verbal messages flying around and to assimilate the details for further discussion. The things we give our emotional energy to!

Here’s the thing, no one can be healthy in any environment that is an emotional cesspool. If an elephant has found its way into a relationship you need to confront your opponent and give him or her the opportunity to work with you on an elephant extraction plan. If you manage to do this, then after a lot of work and maybe some outside help the room can be restored. If you confront your opponent and they aren’t willing or able to work through this, you need to leave the room. There’s no reward in both of you drowning in waste. If it’s not safe for you to confront your opponent, you need to just leave and cut your losses. There’s no virtue in sacrificing your future on the sword of someone’s contempt. There’s no room that you can’t leave because there are always new jobs to be found, new relationships to be developed and new practices to be implemented.

Elephant invasions have rendered churches impotent, governments corrupt, and relationships destroyed. Nothing good comes from these standoffs. If there is hurt or anger between you and someone else, you need to confront that person (if it’s safe). I’m not naïve and I’m fully aware that most of the time we don’t live happily ever after. Here’s the thing, the key to peace with broken relationships isn’t that everything gets worked out. That doesn’t always happen. The key is when I am able to voice my hurt or anger, I am then empowered to let it go and be free from it. If I can reconcile with the coworker, family member or friend, that’s hitting the jackpot. One hard lesson of maturity is that you will be forced many times to forgive things that you will never hear apologies for. We must do our part to clean up after the elephants we may be partially responsible for, but we are not prisoners to another person’s willingness to cooperate.

Good to Know

Lent is over- Easter has come. We’re now a couple weeks into the Easter Season. Most people think of Easter as one great big Sunday. In the Christian church we think of  Easter as just the beginning of the Easter Season. The Easter season lasts for seven Sundays. Just as Lent leads to the Easter season, the Easter season leads to the celebration of Pentecost. I’m not wanting to get “in the weeds” about Christian calendars or religious traditions, I just wanted to explain why I’m still in this Easter mindset. I shared a lot of thoughts about Lent over the last couple of months and I want to wrap that all up. My focus during the Lent season was taking an honest look at the idea of darkness (sin, negativity, pain) and how it infiltrates our lives so thoroughly that we have a hard time recognizing it. You know how life is, you set out on a journey or a time or reflection without ever knowing what’s going to happen along the way, even if you hit your desired destination. There’s always something to learn.

How does Easter change things? Let me start off by saying Easter changes everything. Easter symbolizes new life, new beginnings, new starts. Just as winter, seasons of loss, and all types of endings are necessary and natural, new beginnings sometimes brings relief and renewal. Forced new beginnings don’t always feel good. When I’m forced into a change I didn’t choose to make, I am often resistant and resentful of it. That’s how life rolls. The one thing I try to always be thankful for is the opportunity that comes from new starts. While I don’t always like the changes that life forces me into, I try to be thankful for the opportunity of change, the dynamic nature of life, that fact that opportunities for restarts do exist. I get challenged to think differently, see things from different perspectives, many times getting reacquainted with the maturity and humility required in learning to be a cheerful giver and a thankful receiver. These universal life lessons cycle around over and over.

I want to say just a few things about Easter. It’s not my intention to get into a big theological conversation about why Easter “had to happen,” or “did Jesus have to die.” There are other places where that is discussed and frankly there is plenty of wisdom to be found in all parts of the story. I believe that Jesus was the Son of God, he came to earth to show us what God’s love looked like in the flesh. I believe that Jesus made a lot of people uncomfortable with his teachings and people plotted against him to “shut him up.” Jesus was seen as a threat to the government and the church that he considered himself a part of. Jesus did lots of good things for many people and he taught about God’s love. Jesus was betrayed and denied by people he considered friends and he died from a horribly painful execution. Believers in Jesus hold dear the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead 3 days after his execution, and that is the bedrock of the Christian faith. It’s the reason why most Christian churches worship on Sundays, because that was the day in which Jesus was raised from the dead.

There are a lot of details to the Easter story. There have been countless retellings, reenactments, songs, poems and stories around this. There are many key lessons that I’m glad that I’ve learned.

  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how I feel when loved ones betray me. It happens to us all.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how it feels when I’m distraught, and despite their best efforts, the members of my support system aren’t always enough.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how I feel when I’m begging and pouring out my soul in hopes that a heart-breaking situation will just disappear.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands what it feels like when others dislike me because they view me as a threat to how they believe, and they do deliberate things to hurt me.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands the agony of when I cry out and feel like I’ve been abandoned by Him.
  • It’s good to know that as I visit with a loved one with an unsure future that the Lord understands the feelings humans have when facing death and can comfort them.
  • It’s good to know that when I’m confronted with my bad deeds, I can look into the face of God and say, “I don’t deserve forgiveness, I’ve done so much wrong, but please have mercy.” Then I hear back from him, “You’re worth it to me, and I’m going to redeem you.”
  • It’s good to know that though my body will be one day committed to a grave, it doesn’t have to be the end of my story. The way I lived and loved will continue to dwell in the hearts of others long after my heart ceases to beat.

A couple weeks ago in church our worship leader sang an old song called “I Don’t Know About Tomorrow.” It made me think about the idea of “tomorrow.” For most of us in the congregation tomorrow was Monday, we had to go back to work. But there was someone in the world who tomorrow would be facing surgery. For others, Monday would be the court date for their divorce. There were some who tomorrow will bury their father. Others will be finalizing the paperwork for their bankruptcy. Someone would undoubtedly lose their best friend that day. Monday would be someone’s best day and someone else’s worst day. Whether your next new beginning/new start/personal Easter is forced on you or chosen by you, it’s good to know that the Lord understands rejection, grief, attack, betrayal, and abandonment. The promise of Easter is no matter how cold and lonely you find yourself as you’re trapped in a tomb, in a little while God is going to open the door and then you will have the option to walk out.

“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Luke 24:36)

Faux Theology, Theatrics and Shenanigans

Lent is in its last week and I’ve been focusing on how the darkness (negativity, evil, hardship) around me impacts my world view and my thoughts. About a month ago I was embarking on a challenge to quiet the exhausting emotional noise in my life. That’s been very hard, when I would have thought it would be easy. You see, I don’t have kids, I live alone, I have 100% control over what is played on TV or radio, or the internet, I didn’t think it would be simple but I surely didn’t think it would be as hard as it is. I was more successful with becoming quiet when things were going “smooth.” I guess that’s normal too. But when things get into an uproar either because of work, or emotional stress or illness, instead of a discovering gentle calm, I felt like I was having to fight to find quiet. So now I see that finding a place of quiet and focus as a discipline. That’s what I think I’m learning. Right now, I’d say I’m averaging about a C or C+ in turning down the emotional noise. Nights are the hardest for me. I think that’s true of many people. When there are no distractions it seems like lots of life-long negative thoughts and insecurities come out to play. I’m moving toward things that make me feel strong and healthy, so sometimes when unpleasant thoughts come to my mind I’m able to shut them down. Those thoughts and insecurities are kind of like a playground bully, the more you stand up to them the more quickly he or she will leave you alone. But like bullies, haunting thoughts are persistent.

One thing that gives me strength is my understanding (although limited) of God’s love. I’m being serious now. I’m not trying to sound like a “holier than thou” amateur prophet. Surprisingly, although I was active in the church pretty much from birth, it took decades for me to mature and get to where I was able to really believe in God’s love for me. I know that sounds crazy- maybe. I knew God was love and had committed to memory many Bible verses and stories about God’s love but arriving to where I really believed in God’s love for me was a long journey. Maybe it’s everyone’s journey? I don’t know. The leap from knowledge to belief wasn’t easy for me.

I’ve come to learn that many people I’ve encountered either don’t believe that a personal God truly does love them just as they are, or they believe that God is this divine aloof being who likes all of us just about the same. (You know like, “I like the french fries at Cracker Barrel but the ones at Longhorn are just about as good.”) I have many theories about this but I’m just going to focus on a couple core beliefs about this right now. I believe that many people can’t really accept the idea that God loves them because they either don’t think they’re worth it (because someone along the way convinced them of that) or because they don’t really believe such a love is real or possible.

The words real, authentic, and sincere are popular concepts now. I think there is a huge revolt against the idea of fake, false or insincere motives, as there should be. There has been so much corruption in the world and so much opportunistic manipulation that we’re sick to death of it. That cynicism carries over to our thoughts about God. That’s not the only factor. Just like in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we so infrequently see true examples of God’s love that we think the bankrupt theology and careless ethics we so often see in self-identified “Christians” is representative of the Lord. (If Plato hasn’t been on your mind lately, here’s a link of a quick video that will remind you about this story. It’s worth watching.) https://youtu.be/1RWOpQXTltA 

You know how kids seem to get in a rut where they deem chicken nuggets to be the only acceptable meal choice? No matter how much marvelous food they are exposed to the only menu item that matters is the humble chicken nugget. I think we go through that spiritually. We get to know enough about the spiritual knowledge that is appropriate and acceptable in our specific part of the universe and we either lack imagination or are discouraged from looking further to see if there’s more. Most anyone who knows me well is aware that I am very frustrated with the obscene lack of love, compassion and humility found in many Christian churches. They are quick to sing and speak about a loving and graceful God, but they behave in a way that will make anyone watching closely wonder if it’s all just an elaborate fairy tale. Weekly church services have devolved into a litany of faux theology, theatrics and shenanigans. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, I’m not trying to launch a “Get sold out to Jesus” campaign or “you need to be sanctified holy” sermon. I don’t want to confuse my message with any fancy doctrinal words. What I’m saying is that I am a follower of Christ, but if people who encounter me don’t start getting a glimpse of God’s love, I’m not following Christ very well.

I know I’m far from perfect. Even as I’m writing this there are pictures of people going through my mind who I’ve failed miserably when it came to showing love. I’m sharing this to you in humility. I know if people are going to believe in and know God’s perfect love, people who claim to be followers of Christ need to be true examples of it. I’ve got to know it and show it. First, I have to know it, know what it really is. I can’t tell someone that I know that God loves and accepts me so they should accept God’s love for them too, if it’s not true. Like I said when I started this conversation, people are very quick to call out BS when they see it (and I think we’re better for it). So maybe purpose of this whole Lent journey I’m on is to become more purposeful and disciplined in accepting and reflections God’s unconditional love. That means at night when my memories play to the tune of “epic failures, short comings and just flat out looking stupid” like an orchestra in my mind, I’ve got to challenge it with ideas and the truth that I have chosen to believe about God’s love for me. And when it’s time for the orchestra’s second number, “People who hurt others and don’t deserve to have any good thing happen to them because they suck,” I’ve got to challenge that by praying for grace for them and compassion for me. Maybe it’s time to take another leap from knowledge to belief and begin to understand that my reflecting God’s love can’t just be a hobby that I try on special occasions. Maybe I can grow into a person who sees reflecting God’s love for others not as an obligation, but as my joy. Wow- I’ve got my work cut out for me.

As I’ve been reflecting tonight, I’m encouraged by the story of Saul found in Acts 6:8-9:31. He lived out some pretty bad theology. He did terrible things in the name of the Lord. God got his attention and because of love shown to him by people he once considered enemies, he was transformed. Take a closer look at the story.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+6%3A8-9%3A31&version=NIV

Wherever you are- know that the Lord is crazy in love with you and you are precious in his sight. God’s love and acceptance of you is real. Give God the chance to convince you of that.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:0)

At Peace with Quiet?

This is the second Sunday in Lent and I wanted to check in regarding my Lent journey. I recommend you read my previous post (Dancing with Darkness) if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about. As Lent is a season of confession and repentance, I’m challenging everyone to take advantage of the opportunity focus on your soul’s wellbeing. I stated last week that I feel like most of us have “Soul Neuropathy.” We’re become more detached from the people around us and from God. Detachment has become our survival tool of choice in a world that seems to constantly bombard us with stress, pain and negativity. Today I’ve been thinking specifically about what it takes to really do an inventory of our health (soul, emotional, physical, etc).

The one thing that keeps coming to my mind is noise. We live with a lot of mental noise, negative noise, and just “noise” noise. Noise makes me think of chaos, emergency, pain, frantic activity. When we’re surrounded by noise it’s distracting to say the least. Noise is not conducive to introspection. I’ve worked in several settings over the years and many of those places were filled with noise. I’m not talking about needing to turn the radio down or a loud coworker. I’m talking about an environment of frenzy, disorganization, frustration. Looking at my time in these different places it seems like we were always going from one crisis to another. We would no more get one problem settled and other problem would explode. It’s not only work places where I’ve found this. I’ve seen it in churches, families and in other relationships. I’ve also met many people who thrive on the noise. In fact, when things start to get quiet again, these people do things to stir up another crisis.

Being forced to exist in one of those “Code Red” environments for an extended period really disorients me emotionally. I can’t focus on my overall well being when all my energy is being dedicated to putting fires out. So, what am I to do in this Lent season where I’m trying recognize and address the impact that darkness has on my life? Let’s look at Jesus. His life was for sure full of noise. He had the curse of celebrity along with attacks from infamous actors. People flocked to him for teaching and help and there always seemed to be villains who were plotting his demise. Three things I see Jesus do throughout the Bible:

  • He connected to God
  • He connected to his friends and asked them to pray with him
  • He took opportunities to “get away”

To me the natural first step in my Lent strategy is getting away from the noise. I have a really hard time connecting with God or my loved ones when my head is full. Literally getting away is something that is very hard to do very often (although you should try to plan this into your weekly schedule). The idea of Sabbath is a struggle for many Christians. I once heard a minister say that he thought the commandment about observing the Sabbath is probably one of the most often broken commandments. As we move toward having a Sabbath rest day each week, we need to dial back the noise in our lives on the other 6 days. Why? If you’re on noise overload on days 1-6 it’s going to spill over onto your Sabbath. (By the way, your Sabbath doesn’t have to be on Sunday. Job schedules and family events and church activities often make it hard to have a Sabbath on Sunday.)

It feels like I’m listing a bunch of impossible exercises, right? First I want you to have a day of rest and then I want you also turn down the noise an chaos in your day to day. Isn’t that impossible? Well, all I can say is there are often many exercises you attempt that are impossible at the beginning. A trainer doesn’t start you out with a 100 pound weight. You usually start with 10 or 20 pounds and begin to work your way up. With practice that exercise becomes less impossible.

On the path to Sabbath you first need to start turning down the noise in your life. You can’t always mute the noise, but you can dial it back. Just like I said last week, you can’t eliminate the darkness in your world, but you certainly can influence how much it impacts your life. You must identify the noise makers in your life. This shouldn’t be completely hard but don’t overlook the more subtle influences. When you’re at home you can turn off the TV, the radio, the computer, you can shut your windows and eventually you’re going to notice that even the refrigerator makes noise. But when the TV is blasting out “Wheel of Fortune” you don’t notice the refrigerator at all. What I’m saying is the more you look the more emotional noise makers you have that take a toll on you. Darkness/pain/negativity seeps into your life from multiple avenues. Begin first looking at the darkness highways. They would be where major influences may attack you. Negative people or Drama Mamas are obvious sources of stress. Music and other types of media can be huge darkness influences. Your mind and the things you dwell on can be a huge highway of negativity. You can’t rid yourself of these things, but you can begin dialing back your exposure. You may need to cut some elements or people out of your life. Toxic people will never make you better and you’re not going to save them from themselves. Toxic people need to take a journey that only they can commit to when they make the conscious decision to. All they do is hurt you. Let them go. If it’s a close family member or friend that you can’t completely cut off, limit your exposure.

I’ve been told by many people throughout my life that they don’t like things being quiet. They don’t like being alone with just their thoughts. They are actually scared of that. I want to share what I’ve learned about that. When everything is quiet it is just you and God. If you’re afraid of that you need to examine your ideas about the Lord. Nothing you do or think will make you more or less lovable to God. He’s crazy in love with you. God’s love isn’t like human love. It’s hard for many to envision because unconditional love isn’t a universally understood concept. God knows all your thoughts and everything you’ve done, and you are still invited to be loved by him. I do completely get your misunderstanding about this and your inability to accept God’s love because you can’t get past yourself. I’ve been there. I’m not there anymore and I don’t want you to be either. If this is too much for you to wrap your head around just pray and ask God to help you. That part of your thinking will begin to get healed. I’m saying this not because I have you figured out, but because I totally know God is able and wants to do this for you. When you start to understand the love God has for you, quiet times of reflection and prayer won’t be scary to you anymore.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;” (1 John 4:18)

God’s love is perfect and there is no need to fear when you connect with Him. Don’t keep yourself busy with the noise in your life or in your mind. Make a place to find peace and rest. Your place for connecting with God may be on the hiking trail, or sitting on a porch reading the Bible, or maybe in a worship service. There are lots of options. We all have different places where we connect best with God.  Over time those moments when you connect with God will go from being filled with fearful uncertainty to feeling like a hug from the divine. You can be at peace with quiet.

Wherever you are please know that God loves and accepts you completely. Don’t miss your next opportunity to connect.

Dancing with Darkness

From the time we take our first breath our dance with darkness begins.

From the time we take our first breath our dance with darkness begins. In utero countless biological processes happen that work together in a systematic way to bring about a beautiful perfect life. Between then and now lots of different things have happened. Our shared human experience is that we all encounter the darkness of this existence. When considering darkness in this context, I’m not content to just label it as “evil” or “sin.” I think we try to frame darkness as an abstract spiritual concept so that we can ignore the real impact it has in our daily lives. We like to reduce things into easily classifiable categories because it gives us an illusion of control. In this circumstance, darkness including all things sinful, evil, negative, things that makes us feel unsafe, unhealthy or less than. I want to us to discuss the things that make us feel damaged, or as if we’re not “whole.”

This past Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent which is a season observed by Christian churches each year in the weeks immediately preceding Easter. It’s a time where Christians are to reflect, repent, and confess. It’s a “Get real with God” time. Most people are familiar with what has become a watered-down tradition of giving something up for Lent. That’s when you deny yourself some pleasure (chocolate, social media, TV) so that you can use that time reflecting on your spiritual life. Whether you’re a Christian or not, and even if you don’t consider yourself a person of faith, I think it’s good to routinely have a season where you are dedicated to examining your inner life, your behaviors, habits and the direction you’re moving toward. During this season of Lent I’m focusing on my battle with darkness. For the next 6 and a half weeks I’m committed to recognizing, owning and doing what I can to transform the negative influences in my life. I’m choosing to deliberately lean into these levels of unpleasantness because I’ve become preoccupied. I’ve grown numb, and aloof. I’ve developed a “tolerance” for pain, evil, and suffering, in myself and other people. I remember a patient I once cared for. He had a terrible wound on the bottom his foot that wasn’t showing any signs of healing, (which is the reason he became my patient). The wound was big and gross. Guess what? He couldn’t even feel it. He had nerve damage and no longer had a sensation of pain in his foot anymore. I could have done anything short of amputating his foot and he would have never known. In a similar fashion, I think many of us have “soul neuropathy.” We get things done, pay our bills, meet our social obligations, and we don’t really feel a thing. We hardly have time to care, and certainly have no room for passion in our crowded minds.

Many of us have accepted, “This is my life, it’s not going to get any better than this.” After all, we can’t destroy the immense darkness. Many of us have embraced a learned helplessness and are taking a passive role in our mental and spiritual well being. Our souls are dying way before our body’s expiration date. We may not be able to completely escape darkness but we can certainly limit the amount of darkness we’re exposed to. We surely have a say in how much it influences our behavior.

Real life example: Most of us, to some degree, are trying to be healthy or healthier, right? When I visit the gym a few times a week and walk across the floor, do I start having negative thoughts creep into my mind that are very similar to the thoughts I’ve had all my life since middle school? Yup. Those feelings that make me wish I had stayed home hit me every time. They play over and over again until I actually turn my music on and get to work. Is that darkness? Yes, that’s part of my darkness. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, where it comes from, or the scores of memories I have that reinforce those feelings, it’s darkness. It pours negativity into my mind, makes me feel discouraged and diminished. I’ve got to own that. I can’t make it disappear or erase all the bad memories, but I can choose to fight past it and stay on track. You can’t transform things until you recognize that they exist. I need to be honest and point out that a lot of times I do give in and don’t push through. This is a very common type of struggle that I know many of you understand. We are attacked constantly by negativity, insecurity, and just bad stuff. It spirals to where life is reduced to acting out assigned roles where darkness is the director of the play. Darkness dictates what we wear, where we go, who we associate with, whether we take risks, and it has a profound influence on our relationships.

Does this really matter?

Yes it does. The darkness we’re taking about here isn’t just a condition that makes it hard to see what’s on the top shelf of a closet. Darkness in the form of evil, negativity, and pain doesn’t play well with others. It crowds out all the good things in our lives. It slowly infiltrates all parts of our soul and we end up living an existence instead of a life. We were created for more than that. We’re capable for more than that. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1. 4-5) Like I said earlier, we are dancing with darkness from our first moments of life. Pain and struggle are universal. We will confront them every day. Another truth is that the Lord is not afraid of the darkness. (Hang in here with me evangelicals! Don’t switch over to autopilot.) If you were raised in the evangelical Christian church, you mind is getting ready to flash back and quote the Roman Road to Salvation or verses about calling on the name of the Lord so that you’ll be saved. That has a place in the story but I’m reaching beyond it. My insecurities in the gym, or at work, or my tendency to feel anxiety, jealousy and anger doesn’t mean that I’m not a Christian. It doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. It means that I’m human just like you. God is cool with that. The Lord longs to be in a real relationship with us where we’re honest and not afraid to confess our struggles. God is crazy in love with us and we’re precious in his sight. God’s not waiting to see a flawless performance, but instead is yearning for a real conversation. Darkness has limited our understanding of our belovedness to God and has distorted the perspective of our place in of creation. We must recognize it, own it, confess it, and ask for help.

“These addictions, compulsions, and obsessions reveal our entrapments. They show our sinfulness because they take away our freedom as children of God and thus enslave us in a cramped and shrunken world.” (Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? pg 98)

My friends, we are already at the dance with darkness. Why don’t you join me out on the floor and we’ll make this a shindig? We can work past the callouses, bruises and scars and unleash the child of God who was created to soar, not shudder. Wherever you are, remember you were created in God’s image and the Lord loves and accepts you right now.

I’ve Got to Believe

There are things that I know with my head and believe in my heart. Those things include that God is good. I choose to believe on my hardest days that God is good even when nothing in my life feels good. I also know that love is real and causes the best parts of me to grow, even when I’m not capable of “feeling” anything. I know that peace is possible, and I’ve got to move toward it as I’m trying to weather tumultuous storms.

Because of what I know and believe, there are other things I’ve got to believe about where I am now.

  • I’ve got to believe that good is going to come from every defeat, failure and misfortune.
  • I’ve got to believe that God leads me to seasons of growth when I’m ready for them. The timing of this season isn’t by accident. The strength needed for this season is available. The tools needed for this season are obtainable.
  • I’ve got to believe what God has shown me about myself: that I’m loved and accepted, that past failures and wrongdoings are forgivable, that there are contributions that I am uniquely qualified to give to the world.
  • I’ve got to believe that just as God has made a place for me in the world, I can’t allow myself to be lost. I can’t try to be invisible. I can’t deny the existence of “my place in the world” in an effort to just fit in.

I’ve got to believe these things.

I’ve got to will myself to believe these things.

The power of my belief is plotting my future.

My beliefs are all that I have right now.

My beliefs are all that I need right now.

Dare to Believe

Truth takes root in the mind and in the heart, facing many challenges along the way. Often this seed takes root in the mind more quickly than in the heart. The wounded heart fears the risk that comes with new ideas that challenges prior, well established behaviors. But for the brave, the truth can take root. Eventually, what the mind knows becomes what the heart believes.

Belief is a challenge.

Belief is a commitment.

Belief is a battle.

No promise is realized without belief.

The reward of the promise is predicated by the commitment to belief;  so, dare to believe.

Dare to believe in the promise within yourself. Believe your worth. It is ordained by your Creator, not your critics. Believe in the hope that is longing to find a home in your heart. Believe in the sufficient strength that fuels you today and will be waiting for you tomorrow. Believe in the purpose that is calling to you. Dare to believe in the gift of tomorrow as you’re fighting to survive today.

Dare to believe in the dreams and love for you that has taken root in the others around you. They see a vision of your potential that isn’t clear to you yet.

Challenge your doubts.

Nurture your hope.

Fight for your promise.

Dare to believe.